When a degree of hearing loss prompts a hearing test with an audiologist, the examination process will do more than simply decide whether hearing loss is or isn’t present. Using a variety of methods, an audiologist seeks to determine the depth, breadth and manifestation of each patient’s unique hearing health.
Unilateral vs. Bilateral hearing loss is one measurement considered when evaluating the configurations of hearing loss. Each configuration of hearing loss is another layer of information that helps your audiologist find the absolute best hearing solution for you.
Using an audiogram in a hearing test
Having a hearing test is a painless process. Guiding the process is your audiologist, a person extensively trained in hearing health evaluation and treatment. One of the most important tools in their toolbox is an audiogram. This allows them to record how you hear. The resulting graph shows how loud sounds need to be at different frequencies.
Frequencies, or the pitch or tone of sound, run from low to high. Low frequency sounds are deep and heavy, examples of which might be thunder, a tuba or a cow’s “moo.” High frequency sounds are sharper and lighter, think of a bird chirping, a whistle blowing or the tinny, twinkling notes on the far-right side of a piano.
Hearing loss configuration
The shape that the graph creates is also referred to as your configuration of hearing loss. This is the pattern that your hearing loss has taken. It also displays the severity of hearing damage particular to each ear.
Unilateral hearing loss
When there is a hearing impairment in one ear and normal hearing in the other, this is referred to as unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness. The uni- prefix means ‘one’ and -lateral means ‘from the side.’
When someone is diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss, they will likely have trouble hearing conversations on the impaired side. You might think that otherwise their hearing will function as before, but really, there is a reason that we humans have two ears instead of one. When hearing is impaired in one ear but not the other, this will impact the person’s ability to localize sound. Yes, it takes two ears to pinpoint exactly where that sound of running water is coming from. They’ll also be less likely to understand speech when background noise is present. People with unilateral hearing impairments also report having difficulty concentrating in large, open environments.
Bilateral hearing loss
On the other hand, your audiogram might present hearing loss in both ears. This is called Bilateral hearing loss. Bi- means two, as in two or both sides. Many factors result in bilateral hearing loss, though perhaps the most common is age-related hearing loss. Within this categorization of hearing loss, hearing loss can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical hearing loss means that hearing loss is about the same in both ears. This might be the case with age-related hearing loss, as time and life has inflicted about the same amount of damage to the delicate workings of the inner ear. Bilateral hearing loss is considered asymmetrical when one ear hears better than the other, although hearing loss is still present in both.
Why might one have different configurations?
A bartender who always shakes their drinks on the right-hand side will likely find that their right ear has a much larger degree of hearing loss than their left. This is because they’ve done damage slowly and over time due to their repetitive work habits. If this is the extent of their hearing loss, they would have Unilateral hearing loss.
However, they could be 65 years old, in a demographic that has significantly higher instances of age-related hearing loss. Perhaps they show this type of hearing loss in both ears. This means that this person has Bilateral hearing loss. And it’s asymmetrical, too, because in addition to age-related hearing loss occurring in both ears, noise induced hearing loss has damaged the right ear.
Treat Your Hearing Loss
All these configurations of hearing loss are interesting to know about one’s self, but the real gold mined is the information it provides you. At Custom Hearing Solutions, we provide comprehensive hearing tests that determine whether or not you have a hearing loss, and if you do, the type, degree, and configuration. Using your unique hearing loss pattern, our team can then suggest the best hearing solutions for your life.